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Two characters in search of an author

Special to The Times

Sighting: Downtown L.A., at the Ahmanson Theatre.

It’s a bright, summery Southern California kind of day, the kind of day that makes most of us long to be outside in the sunlight. A banner is being placed by the stage door. It reads: “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe.”

Inside the theater, a rehearsal is in progress. Lighting designer Ken Billington, author-director Jane Wagner, producer Janet Beroza and sound engineer Candice Nelms are in the midst of a tech rehearsal: No one here cares about missing the sunlight. They only care about the stage lights, which are being quite temperamental at the moment.

On stage, we see a lone figure looking vulnerable in the semi-darkness. This is Lily Tomlin, Archetype of the Aging Actress and star of “The Search.”

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Lily (exasperated): Look, Trudy has to look like a real street person, yet be ethereal, magical, too. I hate this cue!

Ken: The cue’s not the problem.

Jane: It’s the effect itself.

Lily: The “moon effect,” what’s wrong?

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Janet: It doesn’t look like a moon.

Jane: It looks like nothing in our entire solar system.

Ken shoots them both a look.

Ken: We’re working with new equipment, doing some cutting-edge stuff here.

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Lily: How about the new traffic lights for Trudy? How does that look?

Jane (hesitates to tell her): Well, the lighting itself is beautiful, but ...

Lily: But what?

Jane: You don’t look like Trudy, a street person, you look like Glenn Close in “Sunset Boulevard.” It’s too eerie.

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Ken: I was going for “eerie.” I thought you said “eerie.”

Jane: Moody, not “eerie.” Remember “Glass Menagerie” and Tom goes out on the balcony after Amanda says, “Go then, go to the moon.” And Tom leaves for good and says, “I didn’t go to the moon, I went much further. For time is the greatest distance between two points.” I can still see that moon effect.

Ken: Yeah, it was eerie!

Lily (sharply): The sound was off, too. You can have the best traffic lights in the world, but it won’t seem like traffic without traffic sounds.

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Jane and Janet both snap back: We know that!

Lily: Where is Candice?

Janet: Out in the traffic, collecting some new traffic sounds.

Lily (to Jane): When Trudy talks to the hookers, how does that look?

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Jane (squinting): It’s hard to tell in this light. Look, do you need a break?

Lily (flatly): No!

Jane: Well, I do.

The Diva Devil has erupted as Lily pointedly stomps off stage.

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Outside the Ahmanson, we see a trollish figure waiting by the stage door. Her body language reminds us of the streetperson Lily was just doing on stage. Only this street person is for real -- this is Trudy, time-traveling trickster, psycho historian, creative consultant for extraterrestrials, New Age Nasrudin and Archetype of the Wise Fool.

The stage door opens and Lily bounds out. She blinks at the sunlight and fumbles for her sunglasses, standing by the poster for which she is the poster child.

Her pupils adjust and suddenly she sees Trudy beside her.

Lily (lights up): Trudy, you old prankster, what are you doing here?

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Trudy (points to the poster): Heard you’re doing your one-human show, thought maybe you might need me. I’ve got some new insights into humanity.

Lily (heads to car): Still on your interplanetary fact-finding mission?

Trudy: It’s what I’m good at, Lil.

Lily (fumbles for keys): You should see how I play you now, Trudy. I’ve really essenced you down. I’m more subtle.

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Trudy: Good. Sometimes I’d watch you up there on stage and think, “Am I that broad?”

Lily (laughs): And that scene where I do you standing in the rain and traffic ...

Trudy: ... and I talk about being in awe of everything?

Lily: Now we may have a moon, too. (Crosses her fingers.) I hope. (Still can’t find her keys.) How long you plan to stay in L.A.?

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Trudy: Long time, I hope. Of all the places I’ve time-traveled to, Hollywood’s the quintessential parallel universe. Everything I need for my research is right here. The entire L.A. Basin is like a giant petri dish. I feel most at home in Hollywood; ordinary reality seems less ordinary here. And that’s a big plus!

Lily finally finds her keys. She also finds she’s been given a ticket; could this day get any worse?

Lily: Looks like you have a lot on your plate. So do I, I’m afraid.

Trudy: Don’t go.

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Lily: Trudy, I’ve got a fitting with Peter Cohen, Pilates, lunch with my agent, Scott Henderson, DiFabrizio is making me new shoes

Trudy: To disguise your bunions, I bet ....

Lily (doesn’t care to talk about it): Then I’ve got a feng shui hair consultation....I know, sounds trendy, but I’ve got to do something with my hair; I’m doing an “on the town” photo shoot with the L.A. Times and ...

Trudy: Try to shoehorn me in, Lil. I can help you scope out some photo ops for the shoot. I’ve been sitting on that park bench way too long. Stay too long on these benches, you get pains in your hip. Do you have a spare Percodan?

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Lily (softens): C’mon. You look hungry. What about Clifton’s Cafeteria?

Trudy: I don’t think so; they know me there. What about Fred’s in Los Feliz, but I’m not hungry. I just want to hang out.

They get in to Lily’s car and drive off.

Trudy: Hey, there’s MOCA. We could go have some fun, Lil. It’s my fave art museum prank. You go where it’s most crowded, see, then you yell out, “Paint! I smell paint.” The expression on people’s faces is priceless.

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Lily laughs. They pass Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Trudy: I love adventurous architecture. But nothing beats Tail O’ the Pup.

Lily: Oh, look at the time. I was supposed to drop by Allee Willis’; we’re adding some new stuff about “The Search” to my Web site.

Trudy: You mean Allee the songwriter?

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Lily doesn’t respond.

Trudy: Hellooooo ....

Lily: Sorry, I’m preoccupied. I always get the jitters this close to opening night.

Trudy: Being preoccupied is a big waste of brain cells, Lily. (Pats her knee.) Don’t say another word. These pranks come with risks anyway.

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Lily: Risk is good. I should be more playful. There’s that old cabalistic idea that God created the world out of a sense of playfulness, and, because of his playfulness, he also discovers himself -- or something like that.

Sighting: Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Lily and Trudy strolling along.

Trudy: What an idea! A great way to show respect to beloved celebs. I’ve got an idea: Take a little area near the Walk of Fame -- could be a hole in the wall, whatever -- call it Hall of Hollywood Hopefuls. You’d have a statue of a generic Hollywood Hopeful standing looking hopeful, looking in the direction of the Walk of Fame. Or the face could be a mirror or a hollow circle. People would put their faces in, take photos of themselves.

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Lily: To pay homage.

Trudy: And to get tourists to come. I didn’t see your name back there on the Walk of Fame.

Lily: Put me in the Hall of Hollywood Hopefuls.

Trudy: Isn’t there a limit to how old you can be and still be a Hollywood Hopeful? Hey, the Hollywood sign! Photo op! We could pay our respects to the caretaker who took care of it for years. He lived in a little cottage somewhere in back of one of the Ls. The sign used to have thousands of lightbulbs, you know, and it was his job to change the bulbs when they burned out. Probably got shocked in the rain. Does anyone care? Whatever.

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Lily: When I looked up and saw that sign for the first time, it was like a spiritual experience.

Trudy: L.A. is a spiritual vortex. Probably because so many people here have magnetic personalities -- that’s my theory.

Lily: Look, there’s the Cinerama Dome. This area used to be the dump site of Hollywood history. Now, finally Tinseltown is being re-tinseled.

Trudy: What’s that quote? “You can take all the tinsel in Hollywood and put it in your navel and ....” What?

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Lily: No, “You can take all the sincerity in Hollywood and put it in your navel and ... “

Trudy: " ... still have room for an orange.”

Lily: No, something like: “You can take Tinseltown and all its insincerity and ...

Trudy: "... still have room in your navel for lint.”

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They drive on, both stumped.

Lily: It’s a great quote, though. OK, where now?

Trudy: Let’s go to Melrose and watch the Trendies. I need some new fashion ideas.

Lily: So do they.

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Sighting: Trudy and Lily on Melrose.

Trudy sees a gaggle of leather-clad, body-punctured kids, studded and spiked to the max, come out of a tattoo parlor.

Trudy: Looks like this block has gone to the Goths. (Yells out window.) Get a life, you uber-Vin Diesel wannabes!

Lily: Maybe we shouldn’t talk. Wonder what they think about us? You look like ...

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Trudy: ... a Hopi kachina doll. And you look like an embedded Christiane Amanpour.

They laugh.

Lily: I was a Trendy myself once. I was so New Agey, evolution of the species and all that: We could all be one -- tap into our collective consciousness ....

Trudy: Instead we tapped into our collective befuddlement.

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Car slows at the corner of Curson and Melrose.

Lily: There used to be a great shop here called Puh-leeze. Kitschy stuff -- Hawaiian shirts, rhinestone jewelry, great Bakelite. Does anyone still say “puh-leeze” that way anymore?

Trudy: Luckily, there are people who will keep these things alive, people like Lypsinka, who make sure this stuff gets passed down. They’re innovators, but they are also born preservationists. I know I will personally keep “whatever” alive. Now, “as if” -- I wouldn’t mind seeing that go.

They drive on in silence for a beat.

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Trudy: There’s one word that I wish would die out. It’s had a corrosive influence on us all.

Lily: What’s that?

Trudy (making quote marks): “Edgy.” See, the cutting-edge concept itself has validity. But that concept got debased by people who weren’t original enough in their work to be cutting edge but discovered they could be “edgy.” Now, everyone seems gripped by the fear of not being edgy enough. “It needs more edge” has come to mean “more sex, more shock, more gore, more violence, more vulgarity.” Entertainment has become “Edgytainment.” When edginess becomes mainstream, where does that leave us but to go over the edge or to go back?

We may be nearing the end of the Edgy Era and on the brink of a new era.

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Lily: What’s that?

Trudy: The “post cutting-edge era.” This could be stultifying or it could give us all a needed rest.

Oh, are we near Frederick’s of Hollywood? I hear they have a display of legendary underwear. I want to see if they’ll take my rolled-down pantyhose on consignment.

Sighting: Angelyne’s new billboard.

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Trudy: Just one more generic Hollywood Hopeful -- she had a dream to be famous and she cut straight to the chase. Put herself on a billboard. Instant fame!

Lily: Must seem a bit empty to her, don’t you think?

Trudy: No. She thought it through; she’d heard that fame is empty anyway. We’ve all heard that fame is empty, but we all want to decide for ourselves.

Sighting: The Mondrian Hotel.

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Trudy points to the oversized door with the Philippe Starck signature door handle.

Trudy: I have an idea I’d like to get to him. You know Philippe Starck?

Lily: I had some of his indoor-outdoor furniture once.

Trudy: Indoor-outdoor furniture! That’s why he’d be right for my idea: Posturepedic park benches.

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She writes the idea on a Post-it and sticks it on Lily’s arm. Lily smiles.

Sighting: Universal CityWalk.

Lily: We still haven’t eaten.

Trudy: Let’s get some frozen yogurt. (Hands camera to passerby.) Get a shot of the two of us. (She pulls Lily closer.) Photo op: “Two Universal Archetypes!”

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Trudy: Hey, what about going clubbing tonight, Lily? We could take in some Asian hip-hop maybe. (Lily gives her a look.) Or we could go to NoHo for a night of theater.

Lily: I already have a night of theater planned: rehearsal. Look, it’s almost dark. .

Back in the car on the way downtown.

Trudy: Can I give you these Post-Its, “Theories on Practically Everything”? Maybe they would make a good book. Or a screenplay. If we could find an arc.

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Lily: Would you like to come to the play, Trudy?

Trudy: Gordon Davidson already gave me a backstage pass.

Sighting: Back at the Ahmanson.

Downtown L.A. is drenched in moonlight.

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Lily: Trudy, do you feel safe out here at night?

Trudy: No one’s safe anywhere anymore, Lil. Germaine Greer said, “Maximum-security prisons will soon be the only place we can be safe.”

Lily: I don’t think I’ve ever been so worried about everything.

Trudy: (reading from Post-it): “Sometimes it’s hard to see anything good and hopeful in a world that seems increasingly horrific. To listen to the news is enough to make you think you’re living in a lunatic asylum.” Know who said that?

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Lily: Who? You?

Trudy: Doris Lessing said that in her book published in the ‘80s.

Lily: What was happening then? I can’t even think.

Trudy: Apparently, something horrific. Doris was quite astute.

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Lily parks in the same illegal spot as earlier.

Lily: But I never felt this confused.

Trudy: I’m sure you were. You were just so confused, you forgot

Lily (sarcastic): Well, that makes me feel better. I think.

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As they get out of the car, they both take time to marvel at the low-hanging, prop-like moon.

To Lily, the moon reminds her of today’s rehearsal as it morphs into a spotlight; she thinks of opening night and gets butterflies.

To Trudy, the moon looks like a great big yellow Percodan as she looks for a place to stay overnight.

They each disappear into their separate realities, leaving behind what could be called an afterglow. An Archetype Afterglow?

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Could this afterglow be scientific proof of something? Confirmation of the sightings, perhaps? Whatever.

Inside the Ahmanson now, Lily pulls on her kneepads and walks to the stage.

Lily (yells out like Trudy): Paint! I smell greasepaint!

Everyone exchanges puzzled looks. Lily seems pleased with herself.

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Outside, from a park bench, nearby, Trudy sees the stage door fly open. Lily bounds out, pulling the others with her. She points to the moon. “This is the effect I want ... this moon. Can we get it?”

Trudy smiles to herself, “What a character!” She pulls up her collar and stretches out across the park bench, taking care to curl up in such a way as to cushion her hip.

*

‘The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe’

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Where: Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles

When: Opens Wednesday. Runs Tuesday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 2 p.m. Also June 19, 26 and July 3, 2 and 8 p.m.; July 6, 2 p.m. only

Ends: July 6

Price: $20-$60

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Contact: (213) 628-2772

Jane Wagner is the writer-director of “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe.”


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